Former Timmins Rock forwards Phil Caron, left, and Stewart Parnell will be playing in Europe when the puck drops on the 2020-21 campaign. Caron, who still has a year of Junior ‘A’ eligibility left, will be joining Hällefors IK, of the Swedish Second Division, while Parnell will suit up with TuS Harsefeld, of the German Fourth Division. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Former Timmins Rock forwards Phil Caron and Stewart Parnell will be looking to further their hockey careers in Europe this season.
Caron (39, 21-20-41, 14), a converted blue-liner who still has a year of Junior ‘A’ eligibility remaining, will be joining Hällefors IK, of the Swedish Second Division, while Parnell will suit up with TuS Harsefeld, of the German Fourth Division.
In doing so, Caron will become a teammate of 28-year-old Timmins native Frankie Hart, a forward/defenceman who will be entering his fourth season in Europe.
Hart (19, 7-21-28, 0), a 28 year old graduate of the GNML’s Kirkland Lake Legion 87s, spent the 2019-20 campaign with Mad Dogs Mannheim, of the German Fourth Division, but split the previous season between Svenstaviks HK and Brunflo IK, of the Swedish Second Division.
Caron started the 2019-20 campaign with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves (9, 0-5-5, 8) before returning home to finish out the season with the Rock.
Prior to joining the Wolves at the start of last season, Caron gained Major Junior experience with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds and Guelph Storm, as well as the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques.
“I was talking with Frankie and I guess some of his teammates, or somebody with the organization saw that and talked with him and he spoke highly of me, they were impressed and they sent over a contract,” Caron said.
“It is really awesome to get this opportunity and I am really excited.”
Given the way the 2020 NOJHL playoffs came to an end one game into the East Division semi-finals, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making the decision to leave the Rock did not come easy for Caron.
“Looking at the chance to get to develop playing against men, I think this will be a big step for me have more competition and push myself harder,” he said.
“Plus, getting a chance to play in a different country will fulfill a dream I have had since I was younger. It is going to be an awesome experience.
“Obviously, I am letting go of my last year (of Junior ‘A’ eligibility), which is hard but in the contract I have the option of returning to Canada to play after Christmas, if I choose that option.”
While he is in Sweden, Caron intends to keep close tabs on his former teammates and their quest to bring an NOJHL championship back to Timmins.
“I am definitely looking forward to all the winning they are going to be doing,” he said.
“I definitely want to see them all succeed. There is a little bit of a time change there, but I definitely will be keeping up to date.
“I will also be keeping tabs on my younger cousin (2004-birth-year forward Kyle Caron, whose signing has yet to be officially announced by the Rock).
“I didn’t grow up with him, because he is from Cambridge, but we were always together and we played lots of hockey, whether it was mini-sticks or just training on an outdoor rink.
“He is a very fast, high-skilled forward. His top attributes are his speed and his offensive instincts.”
Caron admits having somebody he knows on his new team made the decision to move to Europe a little easier.
“Also, with the uncertainty of not having a set start date here in Canada, I didn’t want to take the chance of having to miss games like we did last year,” he said.
“That (not being able to finish the playoffs) was something that was very hard for me.
“We had been doing so well heading into the playoffs and it was just very frustrating.
“I believe Sweden will be the last place on Earth to cancel hockey.”
Caron’s contract is schedule to kick in Sept. 1, with Hällefors IK’s regular season expected to open in “late September or early October.”
“If I go down there earlier, I will get to skate and prepare for a few months” prior to the season starting,” he said.
Like most hockey players across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on Caron’s normal off-season activities, but not as much as most.
“With the gyms being closed, I have been very fortunate to work at Discover Fitness,” he said.
“I was giving Facebook live workouts for the community and in exchange for that I was able to borrow some equipment.
“Therefore, I was able to get in some good, quality training in the comfort of my own home. I am very grateful for that.”
Caron has spent much of his career, to date, playing defence but he demonstrated an ability to consistently contribute offensively when he was moved to forward by the Rock last season.
“Initially, the opportunity (in Sweden) was to play defence but the more I spoke with the coach the more they understood I am a two-way player who can play any position and I expressed a strong interest in playing forward,” he said.
“We will take things one step at a time. I can play either defence or forward.
“The European style of game is much different, especially with the bigger ice surface, so playing defence over there would be much different than playing defence in North America.”
With a population of 4,530, Hällefors — located 260 kilometres west of Stockholm — is much smaller than Timmins.
“It is similar to when I played in Iroquois Falls (with the NOJHL Eskimos in 2016-17),” Caron said.
“I have heard nothing but great things about it. The country is small, so I think it is close to a lot of other communities and other teams in higher divisions.
“It is definitely going to be a learning experience and I am really looking forward to it.”
Language, of course, will be among the things at the top of his list.
“So far, I have picked up ‘god eftermiddag hur mår du,’ which means good afternoon, how are you?” Caron said.
“I have been doing a bit of research, trying to learn the language but I was told they speak a lot of English over there, anyways.”
Making the decision to move so far away from home is, of course, not easy for a 19 year old and his family at the best of times, but even more thought is required when the world remains in the grip of a COVID-19 pandemic.
“We definitely talked about that,” Caron said.
“Travelling away from home is big any time any player does that. I have been through it before and I think the fact I am going to have Frankie guiding me and helping me will have a big impact on that.
“In Sweden, things don’t seem to be too bad with regard to COVID-19, nothing like other countries, so I think it should be good.”
Parnell (47, 21-25-46, 32), who completed his final year of Junior ‘A’ eligibility in 2019-20, actually thought he was finished with hockey until the opportunity with TuS Harsefeld presented itself.
“I had kind of just accepted my career was over, I guess,” he said.
“I was looking forward to school and out of nowhere (Rock general manager Kevin Peever) Peeves called me and said the team was interested in me and wanted to know if I wanted to go overseas and play in Germany and obviously I just jumped on that opportunity.”
The plan, had the opportunity in German not presented itself, was for Parnell to go to school in the fall.
“I was going to get into electrical at Northern College,” he said.
“I plan on doing that (when my hockey playing days are over).
Parnell, a Porcupine native, spent four seasons (131, 40-70-110, 78) in the maroon, gold and white — although his 2018-19 campaign was limited to just three games because of an upper-body injury.
“I was really pleased with my season last year,” he said.
“Having a full, healthy season really helped a lot. I really appreciate Kevin, our coaches and my teammates supporting me.
“I had some ups and downs throughout the season, I would say. I wasn’t playing my best hockey at some points but they just kept pushing me, saying if you keep working hard things will pan out for you.
“Missing a full season will do that to you. You come back and it is just like starting over again, getting your feet back under you, getting physical out there.
“It takes a while. You can’t just expect to come back and be dominant.”
Parnell knows making the move to Germany will be a big adjustment both on and off the ice.
“It is going to be totally new,” he said.
“I am not going to know anybody over there. I am going to have to make new friends, but that is part of the experience. You just have to enjoy it.”
Parnell won’t be the only Canadian on the TuS Harsefeld roster for the upcoming season.
“They have two other Canadians,” he said.
“That will make the adjustment a little easier. I will know two people for sure speak English.
“One of the guys (Laval, Que., native Guillaume Vachon) got ahold of me already and said if I have any questions to just let him know. He played there last year.”
Parnell won’t be the only local resident playing in Germany this season, as former New York Islanders blue-liner Mark Katic will be entering his third season with Adler Mannheim, of the DEL.
“I wouldn’t say I know him very well, but I know of him and stuff,” he said.
“I have talked to him a few times. I am obviously very close with Danny Katic, his cousin.
“He said Germany is a great place to play and he said the town is fantastic.”
Mannheim, where Katic plays, is nearly 600 kilometres south of Harsefeld, soon to be Parnell’s new home.
In addition to the language, Parnell is hoping to absorb as much as he can about his new country, including the geography.
“I really don’t know too much about Germany,” he said.
“I never thought I would end up playing there. I am really looking forward to learning everything, their culture. It should be a lot of fun.
“My uncle (Tom Verbeek) flies all around the world and he says Germany is a really nice place.”
With a population of 12,247, Harsefeld — located just under 350 kilometres northwest of Berlin — is a lot smaller than Timmins.
“I don’t know much about it, but I have been told they love their hockey,” Parnell said.
“It’s like their main attraction, really.”
The coach of Parnell’s new team has told the 6-1, 180-pound forward he will be playing a similar role to the one he thrived in while toiling for the Rock.
“They are looking for me to be a solid two-way player, hopefully strong defensively, but able to put a few points on the board for the team, as well,” he said.
Like Caron, it didn’t take Parnell long to agree to make the move to Europe to continue his hockey career.
“My dad was pushing me to go and it was a pretty quick decision,” he said.
Parnell is scheduled to join his new teammates for training camp on Oct. 1, with the regular season set to begin on Oct. 11.
“This is going to be my first time in Germany. It is going to be a brand-new experience for me,” he said.
“I have no clue (if they speak a lot of English), but I plan on learning a bit of German, if they don’t.”
Technically, Katic is also a former member of the Rock organization, having played one game with the Abitibi Eskimos when the franchise was located in Iroquois Falls — as an affiliate player during his final season with the GNML’s Timmins Majors.
The majority of Katic’s Junior career, however, was spent with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, before he was selected by the Islanders, 62nd overall, during the third round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Katic spent the majority of his time with the organization playing in the AHL, but he did get a cup of coffee with the Islanders during the 2010-11 NHL campaign (11, 0-1-1, 4).
He made the move to Europe following the 2011-12 season, making stops with Eisbären Berlin (DEL), Medvescak Zagreb (KHL), Medvescak Zagreb II (Croatia) and Skellefteå AIK (SHL), before joining Adler Mannheim prior to the 2018-19 campaign.